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One C. S. Lewis Writing I Relate To

When I became an evangelical Christian in high school, my first introduction to “apologetics” was through the works of C. S. Lewis.  Apologetics involves establishing reasoned ways to “defend the faith” against intellectual attack and to “demonstrate” the superiority of the faith, intellectually, for inquiring minds, in order to convince people.   C. S. Lewis was many things: a brilliant scholar of early modern English at both Oxford and Cambridge (many people don’t know he wrote serious academic scholarship, e.g., on seventeenth-century English); an author of enormously popular children books (Chronicles of Narnia); and a Christian apologist (e.g., Mere Christianity; The Problem of Pain).

In evangelical circles at the time – and still today, in places – Lewis was/is revered almost as a demi-god, or at least an angel, if not the fourth member of the Trinity.  Not so much in other circles.  In graduate school, when I told my Oxford-trained philosophy professor (who was also a Christian theologian) that I was interested in C. S. Lewis, he grimaced and said with some considerable force, “He’s a complete amateur.”  I thought, “What the hell are *you* talking about???”  How can you possibly call him an amateur?  He’s one of the greatest thinkers in the modern world!   And who are you???

It’s true, this professor was in fact the most astute I knew.  And he was professionally trained as a philosopher.  I later came to realize that C. S. Lewis was not.  And that in fact (well, it’s a fact in my mind), my professor was right.

Lewis was indeed brilliant.  He was massively …

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  1. Barfo
    Barfo  November 7, 2019

    During my Christian years a friend recommended a book by C.S. Lewis to me titled, The Screwtape Letters. I read it and although it was interesting at the time I now realize what was once considered sin is actually human nature.

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      Thomasfperkins  November 16, 2019

      Exactly! Sin is in our nature.

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    Logan Jones  November 7, 2019

    In an essay he wrote, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” Lewis (admitting that he’s not a Bible scholar) explains that he doesn’t trust scholars’ reconstructions is the origins and different phases of the writing of a biblical text. He explains that whenever literary scholars analyze his texts in the same way, they always guess his process wrong. He further explains that these literary scholars speak the same native language as him, and are immersed in the socio/political context—more than we can say about any Bible scholar. He therefore doubts that the guesses of scholars are correct. This essay really resonated with me, and I was wondering if there is a good reason to trust that scholars generally have reliably reconstructed the different phases in the writing of an ancient text?

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      Logan Jones  November 8, 2019

      *reconstruction of the origins*

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      All you can do, I suppose, is read the reconstructions and see if they are based on solid evidence and logic. Part of the problem is lumping scholars together and say they are doing it wrong, when scholars interpret texts in a wide range of ways….

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    fishician  November 7, 2019

    Funny how many of the writings I admired when a practicing Christian now seem to me shallow and ineffective in their arguments. Worldview makes a huge difference in how you process information. Unrelated: Nova had a show last night about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the forgeries that have been created to dupe collectors and go for big money. At least the Bible Museum, which I generally wouldn’t trust at all, has admitted some of their documents are forged, and removed them from display. But also there are some high tech processes to reveal what charred and deteriorated scrolls have printed within. Fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, even if the Bible we have is 99.9% accurate compared to ancient documents, it still portrays a deeply flawed god and very strange laws and doctrines, as well as the internal inconsistencies and contradictions you often point out. But still a fascinating book to study.

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    ecafischer  November 7, 2019

    I relate to what you said about leaving some lines out of your singing or recitation. There are still many old hymns that I love to sing or hum. Have a lot of problems w/ the old words/phrases though. I try and change the words and sometimes it works; other time I just have to hum.
    Thanks, Ehrman. You’re good and I’ve sure learned a lot from you.

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    ShonaG  November 7, 2019

    “Pick up the broken pieces from the ground, on your diminishing returns,
    and take a good look at the master plan down here every candle burns.
    You are as gentle as the morning dawn, torment can’t wash away your grace,
    in search of angels within the Uist skies, so many suns light up your face.

    tonight the sky’s are red, so red they fill my eyes,
    sundown on barren words that can’t describe, your island paradise,
    but I know that all is well with the world, don’t worry anymore,
    don’t worry now, another sun will rise”
    -‘ In Search of Angels’, Runrig (not a Christian band, but a band with Christians)
    You won’t understand it because its in Gaelic but ‘The Highest Apple’

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    Stephen  November 7, 2019

    My understanding is that this poem was written after the death of his wife who he wed late in life and is addressed to her. He does distinguish between God and “you” in the fourth line. Read that way the final lines are quite poignant.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      Interesting. Yes, their relationship was very moving. There was a movie about it: what was that called?

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        cmcotham  November 8, 2019


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        ksgm34  November 8, 2019


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        James  November 8, 2019


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        tbone  November 8, 2019

        Shadowlands 🙂 1993 movie, based on 1980s TV script, later a play, & eventually a book “Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C. S. Lewis & Joy Davidman.”

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        fishician  November 8, 2019


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        mjoniak  November 8, 2019

        The movie (and play) was called Shadowlands.

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        Logan Jones  November 8, 2019


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        RuthB  November 8, 2019

        Yes, I also thought the poem could be read in that way, beautifully expressing how his relationship with Joy (his wife) transformed his understanding of love.
        I think the movie was called Shadowlands.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 10, 2019

          Yup, I’m thinking that really is what hte poem is about, till the final two lines (it doesn’t affect my personal understanding of it so much, but does allow me to related to it better)

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        J--B  November 8, 2019

        Shadowlands – 1993 – Starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger – Directed by Richard Attenborough

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        esluss  November 8, 2019

        Shadowlands. Anthony Hopkins & Debra Winger. Lovely, lovely movie.

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        Ficino  November 9, 2019

        Shadowlands. Anthony Hopkins plays Lewis, Debra Winger plays Joy Gresham.

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    ksgm34  November 7, 2019

    I’m not familiar with this poem but to me it smacks of the self-loathing and anti-humanism so central to Evangelical Christianity.

    What reasons did Lewis offer for his opposition to critical biblical scholarship? Given that his “mad, bad or God?” trilemma is dependent on seeing the Gospels as accurate representations of Jesus’ words and actions, I guess it’s not surprising that he would not be its cheerleader!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      Ha! There may well be something of that in it! On biblical scholarship, he was a very literary person, obvioulsy, nad he just didn’t trust historians who were dealing with his sacred literary texts, didn’t think they knew how to read texts. Of course, in many instances he was right. But on the whole he was a bit sniffy about it.

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    veritas  November 7, 2019

    Ah yes,Mr.C.S. Lewis is truly revered in churches as a demi-god or close as you mentioned Bart.I think there has been at times more Lewis’s quotes used in the Sunday service of some churches I’ve attended than actually gospel quotes. My guess is that he became very popular (or idolized) in Christianity because,like Paul (hater to lover),converted after some thirty years as an Atheist to believer.These kind of moves are most often revered in churches as concrete undertakings by individuals to validate their belief.In about the sixth paragraph of this blog,you mention about morality,as Lewis claims is from a moral creator,whereas you differ.I was recently listening to philosopher Peter Singer,having a debate with Andy Bannister.Singer sort of surprised me,as an atheist,I admired his candor very much,that he was willing to concede that there are some values that exist outside of our choosing but not a purpose for life.He was prepared to say that but not attribute that to a God.If I may Bart ask you two questions.One,would you agree with this assessment,that some good values may exist outside of our choosing?And two,in your experience as both Pastor and let’s just say non-believer,is it easier to go from non-belief to belief or vice versa?Thanks as always.By the way,that debate is from Nov.2/2018 on,”Unbelievable”,with Justin Brierling.Good debate.

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      veritas  November 8, 2019

      Hi Bart,just curious as to why you chose not to answer my two questions.

      • Bart
        Bart  November 10, 2019

        Ah, mainly because I was speed reading and didn’t realize you were asking them. A bit much too speed! 1. Absolutely; some of the best things that have happened to me have been outside my choosing, and many of the things I value the most would be seriously compromised if I actually did everything I chose all the time. 2. In my experience it is FAR more common to go from belief to unbelief. I’m not sure how to answer which is easier. In some ways the peace of mind that comes with adopting faith is easier; in some ways jut giving it all up is easier. In some ways moving to faith can have serious social repercussions and so is hard; in some ways the social repercussions make life easier, and it entails far less of an agonizing struggle. For some people.

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          dankoh  November 11, 2019

          Just in my personal experience, it is not all that easy to go from belief, especially the one you were raised in, to unbelief. I went through it in several stages, as I dug more and more into the innards, shall we say, of Judaism.

          Among other things, belief (or at least the tradition) functions as a kind of comfort food. It’s familiar, it takes you back to childhood. In the absence of belief, we look for something to fill that void. If we are honest with ourselves, we come to realize that we can only fill that void from within. And that may be the hardest work of all.

          (I’m still working some of this out – obviously – and didn’t mean to use your blog as a sounding board. But now that I’ve done so, I’d welcome your thoughts on this.)

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            veritas  November 11, 2019

            Thanks for sharing your view.I don’t have a deep tradition as you may have had,so I find my skepticism rooted in questions that have difficult answers or no answers at all.I find it difficult to accept on being told what to believe and how to believe it.Pastors or Priests or Ministers are usually regarded by their congregations as some type of a special seer or prophet who is closer to God than most people.It sounds like an authoritative assumption.It may be, I’m not sure.But yes,as you have mentioned,it is very difficult to overcome.There is an intrinsic good when faith or a belief is applied to our lives.I would think even Prof.Ehrman would agree.I am also not sure where that good value stems from outside of our choosing and whether it is important to know that answer or not.I continue to search wherever it takes me.I love open dialogue about our existence.By no means am I a fundamentalist of any kind.

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          veritas  November 11, 2019

          Thanks for your thoughtful answers.In your view, I am curious very much as you have been influential in my life because of your personal stories and on suffering…..Where do they come from,or what causes, do you believe, those outside of our control choices that sometimes bewilder us?I know you do not believe in a living God,so that is ruled out.(For you)

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    Apocryphile  November 7, 2019

    Thanks for sharing the poem – I’d never read it before. I think what he is saying bears some weight and reflection, however. The question of whether our lives have any purpose ultimately has to be answered by each of us personally, but it is also probably true in the ultimate “Platonic” sense that either everything has a purpose, or nothing does. I have no evidence (and there couldn’t ever be, in the scientific sense) – just a feeling – that the former actually obtains. The deeper we probe into the mechanics of the universe, the more we are led to the profound possibility that the ultimate “stuff” of the universe is information, and one can’t even define what information is apart from the concept of *meaning*. Again, just a personal feeling, but I suspect the ultimate stuff of reality may be closer to thoughts and feelings than to atoms and molecules.

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    RonaldTaska  November 7, 2019

    1. My favorite C.S. Lewis book is “A grief Observed” where Lewis movingly writes about his marriage to Joy Gresham and her subsequent death.

    2. With regard to the famous trilemma of Lord, Lunatic, or Liar, I would add a fourth “L,” namely a lot Legendary.

    3. With regard to your work on the Heaven and Hell book, “The Great Divorce” by Lewis describes residents of Hell taking a bus trip to Heaven and then deciding whether or not they want to stay in heaven.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      Yes, it was an influential book on me. And not really about heaven and hell!

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    Kmbwhitmore  November 7, 2019

    Our suffering comes from dancing with the Devil because he is a lousy dancer. When we get sick of suffering and then choose to dance with God the healing begins. This requires repentance in prayer which is the true apologetics and then probably be born again in baptism with a renewed Spirit- the Spirit of wisdom and insight, of counsel and power, of knowledge and piety and the fear of God. It is then that we can produce the good fruit of the Spirit which is peace, love, joy and generosity to name a few.

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    Cousiza2  November 7, 2019

    Professor did you read The Screwtape letters? Related to this, and If not an indiscretion on my part,
    may I enquire what your view on the devil is existentially and scholarly?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      About ten times. My own views? I don’t believe there is a devil or actual supernatural cosmic forces in the world. I think Lewis’s understanding of evil is completely wrong.

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    skyhookt  November 7, 2019

    Orthodox Christian that I am, I not only appreciate your thoughtful assessment of Lewis, but fully agree with your criticisms of his theodicy and his grounding of morality. I plan to read your article at our next Lewis Society meeting and get their reactions.

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    Judith  November 7, 2019

    Wow! Thanks for sharing.

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    AndrewJenkins  November 7, 2019

    Many thanks! I have read and appreciated CS Lewis for many years but did not know this poem.
    But who is the ‘Oxford-trained philosophy professor (who was also a Christian theologian)’ ?
    Best wishes, Andrew.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      Diogenes Allen. Scary smart person.

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        AndrewJenkins  November 8, 2019

        Yes, and very interesting. I see he was an important interpreter of Simone Weil (described by Camus as ‘the only great spirit of our time’). Did you ever find her interesting?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 10, 2019

          Yes indeed, she was amazing. He had us read “Intimations of Christianity among the Greeks.” I later learned more about her. As I recall, she placed ahead of Simone de Beauvoir in her class at the Sarbonne. Them’s some significant credentials.

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        thebookguy  November 10, 2019

        Distinguished Sir,
        Have you read Theology for the troubled believer by Diogenes Allen? Any thoughts?
        Thank you kindly.

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    brenmcg  November 7, 2019

    Off topic q: The PA in John tells us Ch7 & 8 take place on consecutive days where Ch7 ends on the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles. Ch8 would therefore take place on 24th of the 7th month. The parallels with Nehemiah 9, which also takes place are 24th are impossible to ignore. Neh “By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.” John “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” Neh “They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.” John “Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death” etc etc.

    Neh 9:11 “you *threw* their pursuers into the depths, like a *stone* into mighty waters.” John 8:7 “Let him who is without sin *throw* the first *stone*“.

    Doesn’t this show that the parallels must be intentional and therefore the PA must have been original to John’s gospel? as without it Ch 8 doesn’t take place on the 24th?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      I don’t understand. Why couldn’t someone who inserted the story in the Gospel have created the parallels? Ch. 8 could just happen the next day. As you know, stories in the Gospels are not recounted on a day by day basis.

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        brenmcg  November 9, 2019

        The parallels to Nehemiah are there throughout Ch8, both in and outside of the PA, and are led up to in Ch7. John 7:37, Neh 9:20

        Ch8 is intentionally happening the next day and when the action is intentionally the next day the author tells us : John 1:29, John 1:35, John 1:43, John 12:12, John 18:28

        If the PA is added later, this scribe not only wants to add in a story he likes to the gospels, he also takes the opportunity to explicitly state Ch7 and Ch8 are on consecutive days. But this would be a concern of the original writer not a later one (the PA could be placed anywhere).

        This scribe has also attempted to seamlessly introduce the PA by including parallels to Nehemiah 9 within it. At the very least it shows the claim that the PA disrupts the narrative flow to be completely wrong.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 10, 2019

          I don’t see why a later scribe might think this would make good sense as a place to put the story. In any event, the reasons for thinking it’s not original to John are completely overwhelming. I realized this already as a very deeply conservative evangelical who believed in the inerrancy of Scripture. If you don’t know the evidence, there is certainly a ton written on it, by jsut about everyone who writes on John, except King-James-only-fundamentalists.

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            brenmcg  November 10, 2019

            If the possibility of the PA being removed from John by early christians is accepted then the evidence against it ceases to be overwhelming.

            Neh 9 says the Israelites “stood and confessed their sins”; “stood up in their place and read from the book of the law”; “stood upon the stairs of levites”.
            In the PA, Jesus “sat down to teach them”; “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground”; “once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground”.

            The point of the festival of tabernacles was so that the “descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt”. Neh 8:11 “thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land; and thou didst cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters.”

            The adulteress is placed in the midst of crowd but her pursuers are unable to cast stones. The KJV makes the same connection at the end of John 8:59 “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”

            There’s no where else the PA could go, it fits like a glove.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 11, 2019

            I’d suggest you read the scholarship on it. If you want recommendations, let me know. But in order to counter a view, you need to know the arguments. In this case, I don’t know of a single textual expert who thinks otherwise.

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            brenmcg  November 13, 2019

            Do you know of anyone who deals with tha parallels to Nehemiah 9?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 13, 2019

            Not off hand. You might contact Jennifer Knust or Chris Keith, both of whom have written recent books on the passage (not whether it belongs in or not, since no one thinks it does, but on many, many other issues connected with it)

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            brenmcg  November 16, 2019

            thanks – sorry to keep posting on this but just one last one.

            πᾶς ὁ λαός often considered a Lukanism appears 5 times in Nehemiah 8. In Nehemiah all the people gather to hear Ezra teach the law, in PA they gather to hear Jesus teach it.

            γραμματεῖς, ὄρος τῶν ἐλαιῶν, γαζοφυλακίῳ, σπέρμα, Αβραμ, all appearing either in PA or John 8 and nowhere else in the gospel but appearing also in Neh 8,9,10

            So we would have the vocabulary of both PA and John 8 changing from rest of John to match Nehemiah.

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    FocusMyView  November 7, 2019

    The desire for pain from God stands in contrast to the guest post you recently had where the early martyrs miraculously felt no pain.

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    godspell  November 7, 2019

    I’m not sure it’s necessary to edit a poem when reciting it, Bart. (Particularly not such a short one). I think people understand it’s the poet’s view you’re expressing, not yours. This is how Lewis felt, and it’s important to respect that. Pretty clear from context he’s thanking God for the pain he believes has helped him grow as a person, not for global suffering. (Which is, let’s admit, mainly caused by us.) He’s talking about spiritual pain, as you must know, not plagues and earthquakes. (I find it interesting that the humans furthest away from pain are the ones most likely to lose faith in God, while those most afflicted are generally the closest.)

    A life without pain isn’t a full life, and nobody who hasn’t suffered ever develops any real self-understanding–or empathy for the suffering of others. Doesn’t mean we have to stand around saying “Thank you sir, may I have another?” Masochism is no virtue, but neither is self-pity. Self-understanding is what Lewis is seeking here. And we place so many obstacles between our minds and our souls. Seeking God is, or ought to be, a way of seeking out the best and truest version of yourself. But it can very easily turn into yet another detour. And it’s in the wreckage of yet another collapsed bridge that we may find the path we seek.

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      godspell  November 7, 2019

      To make my point a little more clear, I long ago memorized Shakespeares Sonnet 73. I’m going to type it from memory now (I swear to God).

      That time of year thou may’st in me behold
      When yellow leaves, or none or few do hang
      Upon these boughs that shake against the cold
      Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang
      In me thou sees’t the twilight of such day
      As after sunset fadeth in the west
      Which by and by black night doth steal away
      Death’s second self that seals up all in rest
      In me thou sees’t the glowing of such fire
      As on the ashes of his youth doth lie
      As the deathbed on which it must expire
      Consumed by that which it was nourished by
      This though perceives’t, which makes thy love more strong
      To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

      (Let me check–damn, I always say ‘consumed by’ instead of ‘consumed with.’)

      But my point is this–lots of people might say “That’s beautiful, but I don’t believe we need old age and mortality in order to love deeply that which we all know we must someday lose. I’m just going to edit the envoi out if I recite it. Never mind if that makes the sonnet two lines short, and throws the rhythm off.”

      Shakespeare did believe that, at least when he wrote these lines, and this is HIS truth. Respect it. And consider the very real possibility he was right. And so might Lewis have been. Poetry isn’t philosophy. It’s about expressing things we can’t access any other way.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2019

      I’m happy to recite Lewis’s version to explain Lewis’s views. But if I’m applying the poem to myself, I leave out the last two lines.

      • Avatar
        godspell  November 9, 2019

        Because the last two lines are where he states that his crisis of faith has led to stronger faith. And it didn’t work out that way with you. Understood. (I can only see this through a glass darkly, because I was never that devout to start with).

        Has any person of faith–in all history–ever NOT had a crisis of faith? You can see them going on in the Old Testament. Nothing new. What’s new is that we live longer, and have more distractions. Well, some of us.

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    timcfix  November 7, 2019

    Another quote of Lewis is “good Christians are sometimes mistaken for great theologians”.

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    doug  November 7, 2019

    I start every day by doing something completely self-centered – I eat breakfast.

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